In my 20 years in the public relations business, if I had a nickel for every time a client asked me to get them on Oprah it is safe to say that I would be a very wealthy woman at this point in my career Oprah is indeed the gold standard, and her show carries weight not only because of Oprah’s massive viewership, but also because they’re loyal. She brings with her tens of millions of loyal viewers who trust her so implicitly, that they buy practically any book she recommends, any product she endorses and follow her advice on just about every topic from politics and parenting to bowling and basket-weaving. And when most PR Agencies are faced with that request, they smile and nod and tell their clients they’ll do their best, but we all know what it really takes to get on Oprah.
First, you have to understand a few basic premises:
- Oprah is NOT a Product Peddler – The Oprah Winfrey Show does not exist to “provide coverage” for your product, company or book. Her mission is to inform and entertain her viewers so that they keep tuning in, and her company can sell advertising at top dollar. The more engaged and sizeable her viewership, the more revenue she takes in.
- Her show is a true “No Spin Zone” – You can’t “spin” yourself into a guest spot on her show, because her staff scrutinizes her guests more severely than the press dissect political candidates. You can’t disguise any element of your past, and you can’t use PR techniques to make yourself look more credible or noteworthy than you actually are. Her people are media pros and will see through it.They don’t see their roles as bookers or producers – they see themselves as caretakers of a multi-billion-dollar brand name and a television personality whose name is synonymous with credibility and trust. Protecting her show and her name is tantamount to protecting themselves and their roles in shaping a media juggernaut. You can’t fool them – either you got the goods, or you don’t.
- You don’t call her, she calls you – This is the one thing no publicist ever tells a client they hope to sign. Why? Simply because they are afraid it will make their agency or service irrelevant to the client who can sign the big check. 95 percent of Oprah’s guests are invited, and are rarely booked because a publicist made a phone call and pitched a client. It’s rare that any of her staff even make themselves available to hear pitches from publicists.
Seeing a guest similar to yourself on her show does not move you to the top of the list – If anything, seeing a competitor or guest similar to yourself on her show actually makes her less interested in you.
With that being said, a publicity campaign is absolutely critical if your eventual goal is to get on Oprah’s show. Contradictory? Not really. Here are some critical tips to give you the best shot at getting on her staff’s radar screen:
Start locally – Earlier, I mentioned that 95 percent of her guests are invited without a pitch from a publicist, but that doesn’t mean publicity wasn’t involved. Her bookers and producers find out about unique guests by reading the news. They scour the Internet and local newspaper sites, looking for unique individuals and stories from all over the country. All those national headlines you read every day about the guy whose 8-year-old saved his life by giving him CPR, or the woman whose dog dialed 911, didn’t happen in Anywhere, USA. They happened somewhere, and in that somewhere was a local TV or print reporter who found out about it and wrote about it. The foundation of any campaign to get in the national media is to prove you were at least interesting enough to make your hometown papers or TV newscasts.
Stand for Something – The mistake a lot of people make when hitting the media is to be all things to all people, to appeal to the broadest sector of the population, to cast a wide net. However, most of the people you’ll see on Oprah are not good for all time zones – they are passionate, opinionated people who hold strong views and may pick a position that cab upset some element of the viewing audience. Controversy and conflict is what drives most talk shows. Imagine how interesting Crossfire would be to watch if everyone agreed, and you’ll see my point.
Have an Impact – Just because you write a book that exposes hidden injustice in some area of society, it’s not enough to just stand behind the book. You have to be an activist, a clarion voice of passion who actively campaigns to right the wrongs you’ve exposed. Having an impact on people’s lives, and earning the news coverage in your local community, is the highest-percentage way to get on the radar screen of Oprah’s staff, if not Oprah herself.
At the end of the day, there is no magic potion you can take, no staffer or producer you can pay off, and no stunt you can pull that will get you on Oprah. But if you are truly unique, you have an impact on people’s lives and have the support of your local media, you’ve got as good a shot of being featured on Oprah’s show as any of the people she’s already put on the air.